A worthy First Citizen

Published 7:48 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Just as it’s true with boats, some folks just leave a bigger wake than others.

That’s certainly the case with John Harrell, the former president and current senior project engineer at Suffolk Iron Works and this year’s recently announced winner of the Suffolk First Citizen Award.

Harrell has been an influential businessman in a company whose history of business leadership in this city stretches back more than 100 years. He began working for the family business at the age of 14, and he stopped only long enough to earn a college degree and serve a six-month stint in the U.S. Army Reserves. He has served on Suffolk’s Industrial Development Authority and as a board member for both the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Central Fidelity Bank.


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But Harrell’s business acumen was not the primary reason he was chosen for the First Citizen award, which will be presented next month by the Rotary Club of Suffolk and the North Suffolk Rotary Club.

The two Rotary clubs work together each year to identify one person from Suffolk who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to make this community a better place.

Previous honorees have included Lydia Duke, Billy Chorey Sr., Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell Jr., Dr. R. Leroy Howell, M. Caroline Martin, former Sen. Fred Quayle, Dr. Doug Naismith, Delegate Chris Jones, Betsy Brothers, W. Ross Boone, Whitney Saunders, Curtis Milteer, Sue Woodward, former Mayor E. Dana Dickens, George Birdsong, former Delegate Sam Glasscock, Dr. George Barnett former Mayor Andy Damiani and former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr.

Harrell certainly fits the civic mold cast by these great men and women of Suffolk.

A member of West End Baptist Church, which he serves as treasurer, he has been an active and important, if low-profile, philanthropist through the years. In his position as chairman of the Birdsong Trust Fund, he has helped fund many worthwhile projects in Suffolk.

His work as a founding member of the board for the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts helped result in Suffolk’s being able to boast in one of the finest small arts centers in Hampton Roads.

And having served as president of both the Rotary Club of Suffolk and the Suffolk Lions Club, Harrell has helped raise and direct many thousands of dollars in donations from those organizations each year for more years than probably even he remembers.

Harrell is widely known for his quick wit, but it is his love for Suffolk that has earned him this honor, and it would be hard to find someone who deserved it more. We congratulate him on it.

A reception honoring Harrell will be held Sept. 26 at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Profits from the event help fund the club’s charitable donations in the community. Visit www.suffolkrotary.org for information on how to register for the event or to sign up as a sponsor.